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Barack Obama Claims Mandate on Taxing the Rich

Updated: 3:45 p.m.

President Barack Obama said today he would demand tax increases on people making more than $250,000 and new stimulus measures in talks next week with Congressional leaders on averting the “fiscal cliff” at the end of the year.

Speaking in the East Room at the White House, Obama said he was “encouraged” by Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) offer of new tax revenue as part of a broad deficit reduction deal, but he rejected the idea that he didn’t have a mandate to raise taxes on the wealthy.

“This was a central question of the election,” Obama said, contending that a majority of people agreed with his position, including Democrats, independents and a lot of Republicans.

“Our job now is to get a majority in Congress to reflect the will of the American people,” he said.

Obama also said that his immediate priority is the economy. “Our top priority has to be jobs and growth,” he said. He outlined his agenda, including rewarding businesses that create jobs, boosting clean energy, hiring veterans and rebuilding infrastructure.

Obama called on the House to clear a Senate-passed middle-class tax relief bill immediately to ensure that 98 percent of American families and 97 percent of small businesses won’t see an income tax increase.

“I’ve got the pen,” Obama said, adding that he’s “ready to sign the bill right away.”

Obama added that voters “said loud and clear they won’t tolerate dysfunction, they won’t tolerate politicians who say compromise is a dirty word.”

To that end, he said that he isn’t wedded to every item in his deficit reduction plan and would be open to hearing alternate ways of getting revenue from Boehner next week.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated Obama’s threat to veto any bill that extends the Bush tax breaks for those making more than $250,000 in a press conference today. But Carney said Obama was open to the idea of tax reform, and noted that the president has proposed other ways to raise revenue from the wealthy, including limiting their deductions and the Buffett Rule, which would set a minimum 30 percent effective tax rate for income over $1 million.

And Carney wouldn’t rule out including Social Security in a deal with Boehner. Republican leaders want Social Security to be part of the discussion, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) opposed that idea earlier this week.

“This is something we can and should address,” Carney said about Social Security, although he said it is not the principal issue with the deficit.

The posturing appeared aimed at pressuring the GOP as the one holding the middle-class hostage if they don’t come to the bargaining table with a deal and the cliff is reached. Obama used the same tactic last year successfully to get Republicans to extend the payroll tax cut.

Obama has invited leaders to the White House next week to begin negotiations on how to deal with the expiring Bush-era tax cuts, $1.2 billion in automatic spending cuts and another hike in the debt ceiling.

Carney said that the meeting with Congressional leaders will take place next Friday. Obama will also hold a press conference on Wednesday.

Earlier today, Boehner reiterated his stance that tax rate hikes are off the table, but he said that deductions on business and personal income should be part of the negotiations.

“I propose that we avert the fiscal cliff in a manner that ensures that 2013 is the year our government finally comes to grips with the major problems that are facing us,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has joined Boehner in reiterating that Republicans will not raise tax rates as part of any potential budget deal.

Boehner has repeatedly warned that Republicans could not support any increase in tax rates but has said Republicans would support revenue via tax reform, which would include cutting tax loopholes and deductions and lowering rates.

Obama did not mention another extension of the payroll tax cut, which is controversial both in his administration and on Capitol Hill, where Democrats are split.

Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.

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